By Cassi Cox
Have you ever gotten up during service and left, or even just taken a break mid-message?
I never used to. I felt guilty, walking out during the message. I thought about how it impacted the pastor, seeing someone leave and not come right back.
Over the course of the last year, I have been challenged to consider protecting myself rather than only protecting others. With that in mind, I stepped out of service today.
I stepped out with my own peace and mental health in mind, so that I wouldn’t have to control any physical or bodily reaction to what was being said.
I stepped out in solidarity with other survivors of sexual trauma and other queer people within the faith community. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been used in harmful ways for far too long.
Today, my pastor was discussing the book of Jude, which references the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude 1:7-8 says, “Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.” Other translations use the word “perversion,” and refer to “abuse” of celestial beings.
In Genesis 19, the story of Sodom unfolds as two angels arrive after visiting with Abraham and Sarah. God sent them there, Genesis 18 tells us, to do some investigative work, as there had been “outcry” against the cities. Lot, being the hospitable man that he was, invites them to stay in his home. This was customary at the time, and inhospitable treatment of travelers was a huge deal in the culture at the time. The angels, though, decline, and announce that they are staying in the town square. Horrified, Lot insists and they end up in his home for the night where he is a gracious host, feeding them well before bed.
“the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may know them.”Genesis 19:4-7
In scripture, “knowing someone” is code. Euphemisms were used throughout scripture, and this one was code for sexual penetration. The men of the city surround Lot’s home, announcing their intentions. They intend to sexually penetrate the two men they had seen come to Lot’s house-two vulnerable travelers, in need of hospitality and protection.
I once believed that this went without being said, but since the majority of Christian settings use this passage to target non-heterosexual sex expression, I am going to make sure to say it. These two traveling angels were not consenting to any form of sexual expression. This community of men were demanding it. Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault. Rape. They were trying to rape the angels. This is a story about attempted gang rape. Genesis 19 continues,
“Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man, let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ But they replied, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.”Genesis 19:6-11
This is not a story about queer sex. This is a story about attempted rape. There are also multiple points in the story where “outcry” is referenced. Whose outcry? After reading the story, is it more reasonable to believe that “outcry” exists because of men who were using sex in a way that violated other people, or because people were engaging in queer sexual expression?
This is not the only time that we are given the account of a group of men demanding access in order to commit a horrific rape in scripture, either. In Judges 19 we are given the story of a Levite who is traveling with his servant and his concubine. They had a fight and she left him. He went to bring her home, and the assault happens as they travel home after being reunited. The story is strangely similar. From the men surrounding the house, pounding on the door and demanding access to rape the man who was given hospitality, to the host attempting to talk them down, it’s like a repeat of Lot’s account.
Like Lot, this host offers his own daughter as well as his guest’s concubine. That is not good enough, though. They want to rape the man.
It’s important to recognize the different impact this sexual victimization would have on a man vs. a woman in this culture. Women had no status and were treated as non-people. Women were property, and they existed for the use of men. The rape of a man, then, even moreso than that of a woman, was about removing his status. It was about demoting his position and making him “like a woman;” one with no power, no position, no influence. To be penetrated in this culture was to reduce a man to the lowly status of a woman. In an honor and shame culture, rape was about power and shame.
This was not about homosexual desire. “He would play the judge,” they said, as they demanded access.These men wanted to show this traveler who had the power. The story continues,
“But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold. “Get up,” he said to her, “we are going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey and the man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine, he cut her into twelves pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.”Judges 19:25-30
This sounds a whole lot like “outcry” to me.
There is an old saying in church circles about how if the Bible references it multiple times, it must be important, and here we have two entire stories about gang-rape.
Yet consistently from the pulpit, this passage is used to condemn our brothers and sisters acting out consensual, committed, loving sexual expressions of intimacy rather than condemning the violations of consent and the use of sex to exert power and control over others. Instead of expressing safety and empathy for those recovering in the aftermath of sexual trauma, our churches are focused on what traditions benefiting those in power have taught them. We overlook the clear abuse that God is condemning in scripture.
And our brothers and sisters who are engaging in loving, consensual, non-straight sexual expression are treated as worthy of God’s wrath, while those using sex in a way that violates others keep their positions of power and prestige. We sweep their offenses under the rug, hope that they can say “Sorry” (maybe even publicly) and thank them for their (feigned) humility while expecting the most of the abused party. Accept the “apology” and the (public) change or be ostracized. After all, “hurt people hurt people” and “we’re all broken people in need of God’s grace.”
That’s why we shamelessly condemn queer people so hard they are unaliving themselves (some of whom are the best humans I have ever met, and more like Jesus than a lot of church folks I interact with) while simultaneously giving our predators free passes, right?
I’m tired, church.
I am tired of seeing “sexual immorality” defined as “doing what makes you happy/feel good” and NOT by the misuse of power, coercion and lack of consent. I’m tired of victim-blaming, survivors hiding their pain and being forced into relationship with their abusers under the guise of “community” while these stories of sexual assault given to us IN SCRIPTURE are weaponized against some of our most tender-hearted brothers and sisters. Some of our most marginalized, most abused, most isolated and most abandoned by our own faith communities bear the burden of the label “sexual sinners’ while our rapists and harrassers stand at pupits and gain repeated access in the name of grace.
So yeah, today I took a break during service even though my pastor didn’t do anything different from countless other pastors across the country. In fact, he even recognized that there was a “lack of hospitality” in the treatment of the men of Sodom toward the angels. He didn’t call attempted gang rape what it was, and he still identified the sin of sexual immorality as “doing what you want sexually” rather than “using sex to harm other people.”
And I have had enough. I am so close to my breaking point that I can hear the tension in the air.
We have to do better, church.
We have to put aside our own expectations that people will be just like us, adopt eyes that see, ears that hear.
Lives depend upon it. Hearts that crave a relationship with God but do not feel wanted in the community we have created depend upon it.
The safety of our community depends upon it.
“Consider it, take counsel and speak out.” Judges 19:30
Be Bold. Live Out Loud.